Sooner Guards Backup Griffin

Blake Griffin had a memorable performance to lead OU past Michigan, but the solid play of Willie Warren, Austin Johnson, and Tony Crocker did not go unnoticed...

When the matchup with Michigan surfaced, the importance of the Sooners' guard play became an even larger point of emphasis.

In OU's 73-63 Saturday victory over the Wolverines, which launched OU into the Sweet 16, the Sooner guards stepped up to the occasion to back up Blake Griffin's super 33 point performance.

At no point was the Sooner guard play more crucial than with just less than six minutes left and a three point game after Michigan had surged to a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 58-55.

Freshman guard Willie Warren snuck into the lane and hit a huge runner to put the Sooners back up five, and the Wolverines never got closer than that again.

"We knew our guards had to make shots to open up the zone where they couldn't sit there the whole game," Warren said.

The ability of the guards to make some shots around the outside indeed loosened the grip of the Michigan zone.

"They split," Warren said. "They started closing me out harder. It was easy for us to get to the lane and really pop up Taylor [ Griffin ] to penetrate in the second half. They really couldn't just guard him on a 1-3-1 because he just kept swinging it to the corner for open 3s. They really had to adjust their defense."

In the contest, Warren and senior guard Austin Johnson combined for six threes on 13 attempts.

And the guards provided 33 of the team's 73 points in the game.

Johnson scored 12 for the Sooners and brought down five rebounds, but his role was even larger than his point or rebound production.

He played a full 40 minutes and was a true floor general for the Sooners against the Wolverines.

"I mean, I'm just used to being out there," Johnson said. "And, I mean, I really—my conditioning is pretty good. I stay conditioned pretty well, and I'm used to being out there."

With 1:32 left, he showed why he was on the floor as OU's general when he drained a three from the left side to give the Sooners a 12-point lead and put the game in the freezer.

"That big shot is just what you live for," Johnson said. "I know how to take it."

Another guy that was particularly crucial for the Sooners was junior guard Tony Crocker.

Crocker was a dreadful 0-for-4 from the field—all four misses from behind the arc—but was sensational with his defensive play.

He limited Michigan guard Manny Harris to 11 points and frustrated him the entire night, ultimately forcing him to foul out with two minutes left in the game.

"A guy who is not up here [in the interview room] who was just outstanding defensively was Tony Crocker," Capel said. "He took three charges in this game and just did a really, really good job on Manny Harris."

For the Sooners to march on into the Elite Eight, they will need some more good guard play when they meet either No. 3 seed Syracuse or No. 6 seed Arizona State in Memphis , Tenn. Friday.

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